Writer E. Jean Carroll came forward last week with a rape allegation against President Donald Trump, and on Thursday the two women she privately confided in after the alleged assault spoke publicly for the first time.
In an interview on the New York Times podcast “The Daily,” Lisa Birnbach and Carol Martin, journalists who have worked in New York media for decades, describe their conversations with Carroll, the conflicting advice they gave, and what has happened since.
In a detailed excerpt from her upcoming memoir, “What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal,” published in New York magazine on Friday, Carroll accuses Trump of raping her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the 1990s. She said he pulled down her tights and penetrated her. Trump has repeatedly denied the allegation — as he’s done with the 19 other women who have accused him of sexual misconduct — claiming, “I’ve never met this person in my life.” (A picture in New York magazine shows Trump and Carroll together at a 1987 party.)
Carroll recalls in the podcast that she fought back vigorously during the alleged assault. Afterward, she ran out of the department store, got onto 6th Avenue, pulled her phone out of her purse and called Birnbach, who was home on the Upper East Side with her two kids, then aged 6 and 3.
Birnbach said she remembers Carroll “laughing” as she told the story. She said repeatedly that Trump pulled down her tights. Birnbach said at first she was laughing, too, but as Carroll continued she stopped, realizing what her friend was describing was rape.
“Honestly, you said ‘he put his penis in me,’” Birnbach recalls. “And I said ‘what? He raped you?’”
Birnbach said she encouraged Carroll to go to the police. She said she would go with her, but Carroll declined.
“It was 15 minutes of my life. It’s over. Don’t ever tell anybody. I just had to tell you,” Birnbach remembers Carroll saying.
Sometime later, between one and three days, Carroll told Martin. She was no longer laughing.
“She was like, ‘I can’t believe this happened.’” Martin said.
Fearing Trump was too powerful to take on, Martin’s advice to Carroll was the opposite of Birnbach’s. She remembers telling Carroll, “Don’t tell anybody. I wouldn’t tell anybody this.”
After these conversations, the women say they never spoke about the alleged attack again. Not during the presidential campaign, nor after the leaked Access Hollywood tape (on which Trump is heard saying he’s famous enough to freely sexually harass and assault women).
Carroll told the New York Times she didn’t come forward then because she suspected her story wouldn’t make a difference. She’s faced criticism for coming out with her accusation now, including from Trump, who said “She is trying to sell a new book — that should indicate her motivation.”
However, she’s not the first writer to disclose sexual abuse in a memoir.
“I think oftentimes, the place that the public and the media go is to thinking this is something someone is disclosing because of what they have to gain — to sell more copies,” said Laura Palumbo, communications director at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. “But for a lot of survivors, a book is really an opportunity to tell their story on their own terms.”
Carroll said she had no expectations her book would have an impact.
“I’ve learned as a woman of 76 years to have absolutely no expectations, because if you have even a half of an expectation, you will be disappointed,” she said.
Since Carroll’s story was published, the National Sexual Assault Hotline reports it has seen a 53% increase in calls.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or visit hotline.rainn.org/online and receive confidential support.
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